Life in the Holy Land: Bread ovens

In the early 20th century, one of the more common instruments to bake bread with was the zag. The zag is a convex iron plate that is laid above the fire. Flat bread is briefly placed on the plate and baked. The zag is common with Bedouins throughout the Middle East, but was also used by peasants throughout Palestine in the early 20th century. This picture shows a zag at the Joe Alon Centre near Lahav.

In villages, the tabun was frequently used. This is a clay cone with a lid at the top. The base of the tabun is lined with smooth stones. The tabun is heated from the outside by placing a fire of dung around and above the tabun. Once it is hot, the lid is lifted and bread is put inside the tabun, where it bakes. Unfortunately, I don’t have picture of a real tabun, only of this reconstruction, which we made as part of the Lahav Research Project. It looks fairly close to the pictures taken by Gustaf Dalman, maybe a bit bigger though. And our efforts at baking bread weren’t really that successful.

The tannur was less common in households in Palestine. It was more frequent in the northern Levant, such as in Syria. The tannur was, however, frequently used in antiquity, though it was often somewhat smaller than examples seen in the early 20th century. The tannur is a round, open clay oven, which has a slightly larger diameter at the base than at the rim. The example measured by Dalman was 49cm wide at the base and 47cm wide at the rim, with a height of 64cm. The fire is lit inside the tannur. Once the fire has burned down and is only embers, the baker (often a woman) slaps the flat bread against the inside wall of the oven. After a few minutes, the bread is baked and the baker removes it from the oven and slaps the next bread against the wall.
We uncovered this oven at Tell Halif and I think it was used as a tannur. Two stones supported the walls. The tannur had a diameter of 42cm at its base, but was only preserved to a height of 24cm.

This entry was posted in Archaeology, artifacts, excavations, Gustaf Dalman, Judah, Tell Halif and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Life in the Holy Land: Bread ovens

  1. Thank you for your informative post on baking bread! You might be interested in the photo of Sinai bedouin using a “zag.”,499,511&img=DLPLWH08

  2. Pingback: The tabun and its misidentification in the archaeological record | Imagining the past: Archaeology and the Bible

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